Summer Style: Decades of Inspiration

The runway fashion shows had us psyched six months ago with what to wear this summer and it is finally time to ditch the jumpers and refresh our wardrobes.

Although we usually think of new trends as, well, new, most of the current “it” looks are actually recycled from decades past. You may remember that the biggest trend of autumn 2015 was the ’70s, and while this did continue into spring, the nostalgia is a little more spread out this time around.

Femininity and frills are the fashion buzz words this season. From shoulder show-offs to lingerie-inspired slip dresses, take a closer look at some of the trends for 2016 that you may not realize are borrowed.


TREND: Off-Shoulder Tops


monroe-photograph-beach-600x447Marilyn Monroe on set of River of no return, 1954 Photo © DILTZ / Bridgeman Images


There’s a breezy nonchalance to off-the-shoulder looks that is chic without being attention-grabbing.  According to The Guardian, the cold shoulder look originated with the world’s obsession with Brigitte Bardot in the 1950s and ’60s. While filming River Of No Return, Marilyn Monroe also sassed up a sunny-day look with an off-the-shoulder top.

If we go further back, in Victorian times, evening dresses were often off the shoulder even if women didn’t dare bare an ankle. Cancel the cleavage – this is the go to erogenous zone this summer.


TREND: The Slip Dress


harlow-photo-glamour-600x433Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight, 1934 / Photo © DILTZ / Bridgeman Images


Underwear as outerwear is one of those trends the fashion industry loves to welcome back every few years — and this season is no exception.  The nineties are back with sexy, slip dresses. Francisco Costa cites his muse as Jean Harlow, the 1930s screen siren who caused a sensation when Madeleine Vionnet’s bias-cut gowns came to dominate fashion.

In the movies who can forget the sensuous white slip worn by Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1958. According to Vogue we will all be stripping to a chemise this year.


TREND: Pyjamas As Streetwear

The French Riviera, c.1925, French Photographer © Leemage / Bridgeman Images


Men’s silk pyjamas were also to be seen on the catwalks.

“Wide leg trousers first began as lounge pants, becoming increasing popular as ‘beach pyjamas’ or resort clothing in the late 1920s. By 1930s the wide leg trousers took a more practical purpose as sports attire and women adopted this new set of clothing regardless of whether they played sport or not”. 1


TREND: Chunky Sandals/Platform Shoes


Build Me Up, by Jan Jansen, Summer 1972  / Photo © Christie’s Images / Bridgeman Images

Stilettos are out and platforms are in for 2016, with platform-style shoes of all kinds making a splash. In the 1970s, they went hand in hand with the disco era but the history of the platform shoe goes back many years… and it hasn’t always been about fashion.

“The sky-high shoe assisted royals in dodging Medieval muck, gave Greek thespians a much-needed boost on stage, and was actually outlawed at a certain point.” 2

TREND: Stripes

stripes-summer-fashion-photo-600x520Showing of Bathing Suit By Ledoux, May 21, 1948, France / Photo © AGIP / Bridgeman Images

Nautical fashion
is among the most enduring styles of summer clothes for women and every kind of stripe was seen on the spring/summer 2016 runways.

The sailor stripe style was introduced in 1858 as the uniform for the French navy and became a fashion hit when Coco Chanel incorporated the stripes into her 1917 nautical collection. The casual design helped break away from the heavily corseted fashion of the time, forever changing female fashion.

In the 1950’s and 60’s the Breton stripe was popularised by stars including Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and Brigitte Bardot.


TREND: Ruffles


women-fashion-frills-1927-600x447Women’s fashion from 1927 © SZ Photo / Scherl / Bridgeman Images


Ruffles and frills are back for 2016, decorating collars, hemlines and forming all-over cascading tiers, providing fashion’s most romantic trend.

Marie Antoinette was known for her love of ruffles sewed onto the sleeves of her dresses, cementing their status as opulent fashion. Ruffles persisted into the twentieth century, although they were applied to the sleeker silhouette of the flapper style.

The flamboyant Spanish Flamenco dress is perhaps one of the most extravagant examples of this flirty style with designers from Balenciaga to Galliano seduced by its charms.


TREND: The Prairie Dress


litle-house-prairie-600x467Television series LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE  1974-1983 / Bridgeman Images


Evoking an era of romance and nostalgia, prairie dresses were a popular style for women throughout the ’70s and 2016 has proved to be the year of its revival with ruffles, florals and flared sleeves forming part of the demure country look in addition to a high neckline.

Your new boho look for festival dressing this summer solved but maybe without the braids and bonnets.


Fashion through History

For even more style inspiration, peruse our showreel of 20th century fashion footage

Images & Licensing

See more summer fashion images inspired by 2016 catwalk trends.

Contact the Bridgeman team for research and licensing queries.







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